COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions
March 26, 2020
Dear graduate students and postdoctoral fellows,
As Dean of the Graduate School, I reach out to you in solidarity and empathy as we weather the current public health challenge. My staff and I are with you, advocating for you, and at your service. As we adjust to the current situation, I would like to encourage you to:
Take care of yourself. Maintaining connections with family, friends, and colleagues is especially important now. Please know that the Graduate School and all other UTEP services remain available to you, including the Health and Wellness Center and Counseling and Psychological Services.
Be empathetic. Remember that everyone is affected by this challenge and is probably experiencing stress, coping, and adapting. Please be patient, kind, and flexible, and point people to the right resources when you can.
Continue your graduate work to the best of your abilities. Although some aspects of your graduate work may be more difficult now, focusing on your work can help bring some stability in these turbulent times.
To help you navigate graduate life during this time, we created this FAQs page which we will update as needed. Please contact us if we can help in any way.
You are a very important part of the UTEP community. Take good care. Wishing you and yours good health,
Professor of Psychology
Dean and Associate Provost
Emergency Grants & Resources: We know this is a challenging time on multiple levels. If you are struggling financially, emergency grants and other resources (e.g., food and technology) are available through UTEP CARES. Click on “Apply for Emergency Funds” to be guided through the application process. Towards the bottom of that page you will see a toll free number you can call to speak with a case manager and get paired with resources specific to your circumstances.
For general university guidance on COVID-19 measures, please visit the UTEP COVID-19 FAQ.
If you have a question that is not listed here that applies to graduate students and/or graduate program faculty, please send it to Associate Dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Lucia Dura.
Should I postpone my dissertation/thesis defense that is scheduled for this semester?
Answer: If you are able to complete and defend your dissertation/thesis you should proceed and graduate this semester. But, you should plan on defending your thesis/dissertation virtually through Blackboard Collaborate or similar platforms. If you believe a virtual defense is problematic, please contact the Dean of the Graduate School so he can help you explore other options.
Is the dissertation defense deadline still April 24? And the submission deadline May 8?
Answer: No. The deadlines for both the dissertation defense and submission of the final document are now June 4th. However, please make note of the following procedures since faculty must enter spring grades by noon on May 20th:
- If you defend before May 20, your dissertation director should submit your final grade by the regular spring deadline, and you can submit your defense form and cover page to the graduate school (see below for how to do this electronically).
- If you defend after May 20, and you have a grade of P, I, or N, your dissertation director will need to submit a grade change form to the graduate school after your defense. Students cannot graduate with a P-in Progress, I- Incomplete or an N-No grade assigned on the final transcript. To make this easy, we recommend that your dissertation director attach a grade change form to the email that includes your defense form and signature page. We will then make sure the grade change form is routed to the Records Office for processing.
Can I get electronic signatures for my thesis/dissertation defense form and the signature page on the document?
Answer: Yes. The easiest way is to route an email through all committee members that clearly indicates the date of your defense. Each committee member should clearly indicate their approval for both the defense and the document. Once this email chain is complete and has all of the required information, you can forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You do not need to attach the document’s signature page. (Ex. I approved Paty Minera’s thesis and defense on May 19, 2020.)
You may also send the traditional scanned defense forms, or PDFs with electronic signatures--signature images--as attachments to email@example.com, but please make sure that all scanned documents are legible.
*Please note that defense forms do not require department chair or college dean signatures at this time. You can simply forward an approval message from each committee member as an email chain to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prospectus/proposal defenses and graduation applications follow the same process outlined here with the exception of the doctoral graduation application and candidacy forms, which are now electronic and will route automatically.
I was scheduled to defend this spring but had to stop collecting data. What should I do?
Answer: Seek guidance from your committee on whether the work you have done (e.g., completed studies) and the data you have collected are sufficient for an acceptable paper. If the answer is yes, you should finish. If the answer is no, work with your committee to determine what can be done. This may require you to file an amended IRB to continue data collection. Alternatively, you may want to focus on other aspects of the thesis/dissertation and wait until you can continue data collection (see Research section below).
I understand commencement was postponed, but I had already filled out my graduation application form and paid the graduation fee. Will I be reimbursed?
Answer: Students who were planning on participating in the spring commencement are able to participate in the fall ceremonies instead. The graduation fee is not for commencement but for costs associated with processing your degree, e.g., getting your diploma. If you complete the requirements for graduation this spring, the Graduate School will process your degree. If for some reason you don’t and complete in the summer or fall, the Graduate School will withdraw the graduation application and refund your fees. When you reapply for graduation, we will reassess the fees.
What should I know about preparing for an online thesis/dissertation defense?
Answer: There are various ways to design an online defense. At the most basic level, you will need to consider who will be there, when, and on what platform. It is probably most practical to use software that (1) allows you to share a link with participants to enable easy access and a public defense if applicable; and (2) offers breakout rooms, so that your committee can meet privately when the moment comes. Blackboard Collaborate and Zoom both do this. Blackboard Collaborate is free to you as a UTEP student, and Zoom is offering free upgraded accounts during the pandemic.
Recently, a PhD graduate from Duke University compiled a practical, comprehensive resource that walks you through design and troubleshooting steps. It even includes reflections on lessons learned.
We strongly suggest preparing and practicing with whatever software and equipment you intend to use and being ready to troubleshoot issues on the day of the defense. Your committee chair and/or program director may be able to help. If you need to talk to tech support at UTEP, you can email or call the Help Desk, 915-747-HELP (4357).
I am on the job market, and it looks like online interviews and in-person visits are at a standstill. What can I do if I was planning to graduate and now can’t find a job?
Answer: Currently, the market varies from field to field. Some academic fields are moving forward with virtual interviews and virtual campus visits. Others are closing open positions for the academic year. The same with non-academic jobs, depending on the type. Talk to your program faculty about your options and consider that you might need to postpone or change your search for the time being. Consider as well that there are things you can be doing to network and/or prepare your job materials. If you find yourself in a precarious situation, you may be eligible for government benefits, such as temporary assistance for needy families or unemployment.
I have met all of the graduation requirements and applied for graduation this spring. When will I be able to access my final transcripts, and when will I get my diploma?
Answer: It takes up to 30 days, from the date grades are visible to you in Goldmine, for degrees to post. Your transcript is immediately available at that time. Diplomas take approximately two months to process and are mailed to the address you provided in your application for a graduate degree. All inquiries regarding transcripts and diplomas after grades are posted should be sent to email@example.com. If you need urgent proof of graduation during the waiting period, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I cannot continue data collection. What can I do to continue to make progress toward my degree until I am able to resume data collection?
Answer: Start by talking with your research mentor about the best steps given your specific situation. We consider the tips below widely applicable or adaptable. In addition to these tips, you consider polishing the writing you have completed, starting a virtual writing group, and/or making a virtual appointment with the University Writing Center and requesting a graduate-level writing consultant.
Here are some tips for making progress while some aspects of your research are limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.* Not all are possible or appropriate for every student, but whatever your stage or field of study, at least some of the following should be possible:Focus on writing
- Write paper based on complete existing data sets or secondary analyses of existing data
- Write methods or introduction sections for incomplete data
- Create outline or skeleton draft of the results section for incomplete data
- Begin working on thesis/dissertation proposal
- Write the IRB or IACUC proposal for your next study
- Work on citations and references for your papers (or learn to use reference manager - see below)
- Talk with your mentor about the possibility of working on a manuscript that does not require original data such as meta-analysis, review, or methodological paper
- Analyze/code accumulated data
- Learn software that you need to analyze your data
- Make tables, graphs, and diagrams – if data are incomplete, make formatted tables that just need to have numbers entered and make graphs where you can just change the numbers once you know the results
Find research tasks to assign to undergraduates that can be done remotely
Design a new study or set of studies and then write the IRB or IACUC proposals for these studies. Maybe focus on a study that can be conducted online.
Apply for external funding for research or fellowships
Learn how to use a reference manager to help you more efficiently cite papers and create bibliographies. Start with this UTEP Library website .
*The Graduate School thanks Dr. Wendy Francis for creating an initial draft of this section and allowing us to use it.
I’m scheduled to conduct research fieldwork this spring/summer? Can that still happen if I won’t be in large groups of people?
Answer: As of March 23, 2020, graduate student research is still allowed. Please check this Office of Research and Sponsored Projects (ORSP) website for the latest news on research. If you are doing research locally, you can continue as long as you observe ORSP and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.
I’m supposed to travel to collect specimens this spring/summer. I understand exceptions to the travel prohibition can be made. What is the process to request such an exception?
Answer: University-sponsored travel is canceled until August 31 or until further notice , but depending on your case, it may be possible to request an exception from the Dean of Students Office. First, consider whether your travel is essential. Travel during this time is discouraged because it may not only put you at risk but others as well. If travel is essential for your fieldwork, review the guidelines from the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects and the Environmental Health & Safety travel Information page to ensure you can conduct it safely. Then, submit your request for a travel exception to email@example.com.
What should I do if I am conducting research that involves face-to-face interactions such as interviews, focus groups, and/or participant experiments?
Answer: El Paso officials issued a “stay home, work safe” order starting March 24, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. If your work cannot be conducted virtually, you will need to postpone it. But, talk with your research mentor to see if there is a way to switch to a virtual format and continue, which will most likely require you to file an IRB amendment. If this is not possible, you might work on literature reviews and writing (see the first question in this section for tips on what to do while you wait on data collection). Consult with your advisor and refer to the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects Guidelines .
How should I proceed if I am conducting research that does NOT require face-to-face interactions?
Answer: Research that does not require face-to-face interactions can continue as long as it follows university, local, state, and national guidelines for COVID-19 spread prevention. Please visit the University FAQ page and keep abreast of updates from the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects. For additional guidance, talk to your research mentor.
I’m conducting human subjects research on an approved IRB, but will have to make a few changes to the research protocol so I can continue. What do I do?
Answer: You will need to file an amendment to your IRB protocol that outlines how you will proceed. Once you have IRB approval, you can continue your research. If you have specific questions about the amendment, be sure to contact the IRB coordinator and/or administrator.
I’m conducting human subjects research that provides a direct benefit to the participants. How can I request an exception to the prohibition?
Answer: Depending on your case, you might be able to continue your research. Discuss this with your advisor, and if the research is funded, find out if the funding agency has published any guidelines. You can also contact the IRB coordinator and/or administrator for further guidance.
Should I apply for conferences in the fall given the uncertainty we’re facing? Will travel funding be available from the Graduate School for fall conferences?
Answer: Currently, university-sponsored travel is not permitted through August 31. If a conference is scheduled after that date, it makes sense to apply--check with your faculty advisor as well. The Graduate School Professional Development team is working with the Dean to determine how we will proceed with travel funding in the fall. As we have more information, we will post it here.
I am feeling very overwhelmed by the COVID-19 situation. What resources are available to me as a graduate student?
Answer: COVID-19 has brought on new challenges and complexity into our lives. This is stressful. Stress can manifest differently in all of us: physically (e.g., upset stomach), psychologically (e.g., anxiety, depression), or behaviorally (e.g., substance abuse). Support and resources continue to be available at UTEP and in the community. The counseling staff and health providers on campus can help you cope and get on a healthy path. They can also give you referrals to other programs.
UTEP Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) will be closed for face-to-face services but will be available by phone (915-747-5302) Monday through Friday 8-5pm. Their main focus will be on providing crisis/emergency sessions or single-session urgent care services. The Miners Talk After Hours Crisis Line will continue to be available (915-747-5302) after hours and on the weekends. For more information go to the CAPS website.
All UTEP students have access to Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) Campus-Wide Self-Help, which provides interactive behavioral health resources.
The Student Health and Wellness Center is also operating and has updated its intake procedures, please visit their website.
I’m not sure I can afford or find adequate food/nutrition options during this time. What can I do?
Answer: Adequate nutrition is important to maintaining physical and mental health. If you are facing food insecurity, the UTEP Food Pantry (located in Memorial Gym) is available to all currently enrolled students and is open Monday-Friday, 10:00am to 3:00pm. You must bring your Miner Gold ID card to access the Pantry. Please check the Food Pantry website for updates on available supplies and hours of operation. Additionally, Kelly Memorial Food Pantry has prepared special food packs with essentials such as grains, legumes, flour, and sugar. They are centrally located on Florence Street, between Rio Grande and Montana. For more information visit their Facebook page.
Answer: First and foremost, you should take care of your health and well-being (see Well-Being section of this FAQ). You should continue with classes and other graduate activities to the best of your abilities while adhering to local and university guidelines (e.g. staying at home). We encourage you to remain flexible, considerate, and have an open mind as you continue with activities. To the extent that you can, work with others (classmates, faculty) to help us all cope with this situation and continue making progress toward our overarching goals.
If you are a TA who is comfortable with technology, communicate with your supervisor and/or program to see if you can help with any aspects of online course design/delivery.
If you are a TA, you might also want to prepare yourself to teach online in the future. UTEP’s Extended University has increased the number of Teaching Online Academy sections it offers. These are open to all graduate students and offered free of charge.
Similarly, you may wish to participate in any of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning’s (CIRTL) webinars or workshops (you’ll need to create a login). While designed with STEM graduate students in mind, much of CIRTL’s programming can be adapted for non-STEM fields. UTEP has an institutional membership to CIRTL, so all programming is free and only requires users to create a login.
I have all of the symptoms of COVID-19 except fever. What should I do?
Answer: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has an informational website and symptom checker that can help you determine what to do. For mild symptoms, they recommend staying home. If after reviewing the CDC’s guidelines you’re still unsure if you warrant medical attention, you can contact your healthcare provider or call the UTEP Health and Wellness Center at 915-747-5624 or 915-747-6348 to schedule an appointment. You can also visit the City of El Paso’s Department of Public Health and the Texas Department of Health and Human Services websites, or if you need help finding a doctor or accessing medical care, you can call 2-1-1.
I’m having trouble working from home and getting things done. With so much going on in the news, social media, family and community, and getting used to taking/teaching classes online, I can’t seem to focus. Do you have any advice?
Answer: What you’re feeling is completely understandable and much more common than you might think--see this article written with faculty in mind. The COVID-19 pandemic brings quite a bit of uncertainty. Make use of your coping skills and mental health resources available through UTEP (see other FAQs under Wellbeing). You’ll also find many helpful articles, videos, and webinars offered through reliable sources online.
Remember that prioritizing has gotten you through many time management challenges in the past. Begin by prioritizing your health and well-being: ensure your physical and psychological needs are met. Then, think about prioritizing work in this “new normal” that entails telecommuting. What is essential and urgent? For example, teaching and completing coursework often fall into this category, as does meeting deadlines. Create a realistic plan for essential and urgent items. Then prioritize those things that are essential but not as urgent, or more ongoing. Research and writing often fall into this category. You may want to break these up into very small chunks (even 15 minutes a day!) to keep things moving but not get too overwhelmed. Give yourself time to find the combination that works for you.
Be compassionate with yourself as you find a routine. Build in some breaks and listen to your inner cues. For example, while connecting with others is crucial, recognize when it may be a good idea to disconnect from electronics for a short time frame, i.e., from an hour to a weekend. These are just some ideas--you will likely come up with more. Feel free to send great ideas or helpful resources our way as they might be of use to others.
I was planning to apply for a Graduate School Travel Grant to support my participation in a conference or professional development event. Can I still apply this spring?
Answer: Given the current restrictions on university-sponsored travel, the Graduate School has canceled student travel funding until further notice.
I was awarded a Graduate School Travel Grant earlier this spring, but my conference was canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Will the University reimburse me for the conference?
Answer: Per University guidance, your first step is to request a refund from the conference organizer. For advice on how to request travel reimbursement from the airlines, please contact the University Travel Office at https://www.utep.edu/travel/ or 915-747-5171. If you have been awarded a Graduate School Travel Grant, you should work with your department/program administrator to cancel any existing travel pre-authorizations and contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions related to your award.
I am planning to apply for a Graduate School Dodson Research Grant. What is the spring deadline? Has the application process or the requirements changed due to COVID-19?
Answer: The Graduate School will continue this funding (spring deadline extended to April 3), but we will take into consideration the impact of COVID-19 on requests when making funding decisions. Given current public health considerations, we are not considering proposals for research travel or face-to-face human-subjects research. For more information and to submit an application, visit this page.
I don’t have access to reliable internet service at home. What can I do?
Answer: As the University’s March 24th coronavirus update posted here indicates, you may be eligible for financial aid assistance to obtain technology hardware and/or a hotspot by emailing email@example.com. If you are not financial aid eligible, you can apply for an emergency loan of up to $500 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Some companies, such as Spectrum, are offering free basic internet to students who need it. You can find the application information here.
I’m an international student who was set to graduate this spring/summer. Should I renew my I-20, which expires soon?
Consult with your advisor to see whether you have a good chance of finishing before your I-20 expires. When discussing this, you should assume that things will be more difficult moving forward (e.g., collect data for thesis/dissertation, a required course might not be offered). If you and your advisor believe that there is NOT a good chance of graduating before your I-20 expires, you should request an extension and be sure to follow all Office of International Programs (OIP) guidelines and recommendations.
Can I return to my home country and remain enrolled at UTEP?
Answer: Yes. but definitely check in with the Office of International Programs (OIP). OIP’s COVID-19 Guidance page has important information regarding the departure process for international students, including a form you need to complete. You can find that information and a link to the form on this OIP web page.
If you travel to a country assessed with Level 2 (or higher) risk by the CDC, in addition to checking in with OIP, please fill out the form at the bottom of this Environmental Health & Safety page to report your return to the U.S.
I am a new international student and was able to get my student visa. What do I do if travel restrictions continue through some or all of the fall semester?
Answer: Please contact your specific program for guidance and updates. Given the uncertainty of the COVID crisis, they may not have definitive answers right away, but rest assured that they are working to identify the best possible options for the fall.
I was just admitted into a graduate program as an international student. Will I have problems getting a visa?
Answer: The Office of International Programs (OIP) will continue to generate I-20s until further notice.
Depending on where you live, you might face delays in processing your I-20 or in obtaining your visa due to bank and/or visa post closures. Submit your I-20 request as soon as possible through the OIP Sunapsis portal. Please be patient, continue to monitor bank and visa post openings, and communicate closely with OIP staff and your program contacts.
If you are currently studying/completing a degree at another American school, you can request that your current school transfer your SEVIS file to UTEP. This makes the I-20 process a bit easier. Please note that you still have to go through the OIP Sunapsis portal.
I am a current international graduate student and was under the impression that I could only take one course online per semester. How does this work now that all of our courses are online?
Answer: Under normal circumstances, international students are restricted to one online course (3 credit hours) per term (fall and/or spring). This spring, all international students are being permitted to enroll in a full semester of online courses as per guidelines by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
The Department of Homeland Security has announced that the Student Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP) will allow current International students with an F, M or J visa to enroll in more than 1 online course during the fall semester even if they have left the US. There is also no limit to the number of online courses in which they can enroll. This temporary provision is only in effect for 5 months (summer and fall) but it enables all of UTEP’s international students to enroll in online courses without any restrictions.
PROGRESS TOWARD DEGREE
What should I do if I cannot complete my thesis/dissertation within the normal time limit (6 years for thesis & 8 years for dissertation) or the extended time limit (via approval from the Graduate Dean) and am facing additional delays due to COVID-19?
Answer: If you need an extension (or need a second extension), you must submit a request to the Dean of the Graduate school and follow these steps:
- Once your situation stabilizes, work with your mentor to develop a plan for completion.
- This plan should outline major milestones such as anticipated date of proposal defense, completion of data collection, completion of chapter drafts, and thesis/dissertation defense date. You may use the IDP form recommended by the Graduate School which can be found on the Graduate School website.
- Sign and date this plan and then get the signatures of your thesis/dissertation advisor and program director. You can provide electronic signatures, or obtain permission via e-mail by having your advisor and program director indicate their approval through an e-mail chain.
- Submit your plan to the Dean of the Graduate School.
The program I’m applying to requires a standardized test but testing centers around me are currently closed. Do I need to wait another semester/year?
Answer: ETS, one of the largest test administrators (including TOEFL and GRE) has expanded its services to enable at-home testing. Visit the ETS website for updates based on the region of the world in which you live.
You might want to reach out to your prospective program’s director/primary contact and ask if they have a testing policy in place for this time period. If you need further assistance, please contact the Graduate School and one of our enrollment coordinators will help you.
I have been admitted to start my graduate program in the fall. Are classes still scheduled to begin on August 24th?
Answer: Yes. So far, the current calendar dates stand. We are working diligently to keep the UTEP graduate community informed of COVID-19-related developments and will post any updates or changes to the schedule or course delivery as we have them. We encourage you to check this page periodically and to stay in touch with your program contacts.